monthly health topic

lunch box basics

It's back to school time again and we will give tips on how to pack a balanced and nutritious lunch.

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lunch box

lunch box basics

It’s back-to-school time again and time to think about what to pack for lunch. If peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and fruit juice are the routine, how about changing it up? To create a more nutritious, colorful and delicious meal, focus on including foods from each of the food groups. Then, trade up to better-for-you options to replace the usual lunch box suspects. Think outside the proverbial box to add variety and keep kids interested. Plan a weekly lunch menu, just as you would for dinner, and get everyone involved in packing their lunches.

Start with MyPlate

You don’t really need to use a plate to include all of the food groups. Aim to include ingredients from each of the following:

  • Protein – Choose lean deli meats or make a salad using chicken or tuna.
  • Whole Grains – Whole grain bread will increase fiber intake, which will help keep kids feeling full longer and less likely to grab for snacks. If your kids have been used to white bread, switch to “light” whole grain bread that is lighter in texture but provides the fiber.
  • Fruits – Kids are more likely to eat fruit if it is cut up. Instead of a whole apple, slice and core it, dip in lemon juice and pack in a resealable bag or purchase pre-sliced packages of apples. Individual serving cans of mandarin oranges, peaches or other fruits are also good choices.
  • Vegetables – Baby carrots are a favorite with kids. Also try cherry tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets or even a small salad. A small container of dip can make the veggies more fun to eat.
  • Dairy – Skim milk or a fortified milk alternative provide the calcium and vitamin D that kids need. Low fat yogurt is also a good choice, as long as it‘s not loaded with sugars and other add-ins. Try mixing plain vanilla yogurt with fresh fruit. You can also add a slice of cheese to the sandwich or pack cheese cubes.

Make Better Choices

Reduce the fat and sugar and increase the fiber and nutrients by trading up to better choices. Your kids will have more energy to get through the day and develop good eating habits that will help them maintain a healthy weight.

Simple Swaps

  • Instead of high-fat lunch meats such as salami or bologna try lean deli meats such as turkey or ham
  • Instead of white bread, try whole-grain breads
  • Instead of mayonnaise, try light mayonnaise or mustard
  • Instead of potato chips or tortilla chips, try carrot sticks, celery sticks or broccoli and dip
  • Instead of cookies and snack cakes, try fresh, canned or dried fruits
  • Instead of drinks, punch and soda, try low-fat milk or water

Add Variety

Different foods provide different vitamins and minerals. Pack a variety of foods in your child’s lunch to ensure that they are getting a wide range of nutrients to grow up strong.

Sandwiches are convenient but can become routine. Make sandwiches more exciting by varying the basic ingredients:

  • Substitute whole grain pitas, naan or tortillas for the bread.
  • Plan to have leftover chicken, turkey or beef instead of lunchmeat for the filling.
  • Add sliced cucumbers, baby spinach or jicama for crunch.

Whole grains don’t have to be the bookends for a sandwich. Try these combinations that combine the food groups in a different way:

  • Pack a serving of baked corn chips in a resealable bag. Include containers of black bean dip or hummus, tomato salsa or guacamole and a stick of reduced fat string cheese.
  • Use lettuce leaves instead of tortillas for wraps. For the filling, make chicken salad that includes grains such as bulgur, quinoa or crunchy noodles. Add cherry tomatoes or bell pepper strips on the side.
  • Serve a pumpkin muffin or slice of zucchini bread with rolled-up slices of lean turkey or ham and cheese cubes.

Plan Ahead

Create a menu for the week and purchase the ingredients you will need to make lunches. Consider packing lunch boxes the night before to minimize the morning rush. Older children can make sandwiches and cut vegetables and fruits. A younger child can pack the foods into the lunchbox. By being actively involved in packing lunch, children can learn more about healthy eating, be more likely to eat the foods they chose and develop a sense of ownership for their health.